Skip to Main Content

Qualitative study design

Narrative inquiry


Narrative inquiry can reveal unique perspectives and deeper understanding of a situation. Often giving voice to marginalised populations whose perspective is not often sought. 



Narrative inquiry records the experiences of an individual or small group, revealing the lived experience or particular perspective of that individual, usually primarily through interview which is then recorded and ordered into a chronological narrative. Often recorded as biography, life history or in the case of older/ancient traditional story recording - oral history.  


  • Interview
  • Qualitative survey 
  • Recordings of oral history (documents can be used as support for correlation and triangulation of information mentioned in interview.) 
  • Focus groups can be used where the focus is a small group or community. 


strengths Strengths

  • Reveals in-depth detail of a situation or life experience.  

  • Can reveal historically significant issues not elsewhere recorded. 

  • Narrative research was considered a way to democratise the documentation and lived experience of a wider gamut of society. In the past only the rich could afford a biographer to have their life experience recorded, narrative research gave voice to marginalised people and their lived experience. 


limitations Limitations

  • “The Hawthorne Effect is the tendency, particularly in social experiments, for people to modify their behaviour because they know they are being studied, and so to distort (usually unwittingly) the research findings.” SRMO 

  • The researcher must be heavily embedded in the topic with a broad understanding of the subject’s life experience in order to effectively and realistically represent the subject’s life experience. 

  • There is a lot of data to be worked through making this a time-consuming method beyond even the interview process itself. 

  • Subject’s will focus on their lived experience and not comment on the greater social movements at work at the time. For example, how the Global Financial Crisis affected their lives, not what caused the Global Financial Crisis. 

  • This research method relies heavily on the memory of the subject. Therefore, triangulation of the information is recommended such as asking the question in a different way, at a later date, looking for correlating documentation or interviewing similarly related participants. 


iconExample questions

  • What is the lived experience of a home carer for a terminal cancer patient? 
  • What is it like for parents to have their children die young? 
  • What was the role of the nurse in Australian hospitals in the 1960s? 
  • What is it like to live with cerebral palsy? 
  • What are the difficulties of living in a wheelchair? 


iconExample studies